Paris bomb factory of 'anti-Jewish' radicals discovered

12 members of Islamist group linked to grenade attack on Jewish grocery store in Paris held without charge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 3:40am

French police believe they have discovered an "extremely dangerous terrorist cell" after finding weapons and bomb-making materials while investigating suspected radical Islamists.

Officers found bags of potassium nitrate, sulphur, saltpeter, pressure cookers and headlight bulbs, all of which are "useful in the making of what we call improvised explosives", Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.

A shotgun and handgun were also discovered in the search.

Molins also revealed that two men involved in a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store, which triggered the investigation, may still be at large.

The raids and the grenade attack last month have further unsettled Europe's largest Jewish community, which was shaken when an al Qaeda-inspired gunman shot dead three Jewish children and a rabbi in Toulouse in March.

Molins said 12 suspects, held in custody since Saturday, would be detained without charge beyond the usual four-day maximum to at least a fifth day.

"We are clearly and objectively facing an extremely dangerous terrorist cell," Molins said, defending the unusual detentions as necessary to "avoid the risk of a terrorist attack" in France.

Police had conducted overnight searches of buildings in the eastern Paris suburb of Torcy, where two of the suspects were detained on Saturday.

The 12 alleged members of the cell, all under 30 and thought to have been born or brought up in France, are being held on suspicion of involvement in a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles last month and of planning other anti-Semitic attacks.

A list of Jewish organisations in the Paris area was found at one of the addresses where bomb-making materials were present.

The suspected leader of the detainees, 33-year-old Jeremie Louis-Sidney, was shot dead on Saturday after he opened fire on officers seeking during a dawn raid at his home in Strasbourg.

Police were led to Louis-Sidney, a convicted drug dealer who converted to Islam in prison, after forensic examination of the pin of a grenade thrown into the kosher grocery on September 19.

While traces on the pin suggested he had handled the grenade, Molins said prosecutors were not sure it was him who threw it. Two men believed to have been directly involved in the attack may still be at large.

Yesterday's decision to continue to hold the suspects without charge beyond four days is only the second time such an extension has been granted since France's pre-charge detention system was adopted in 2006. Sources said the suspects were all refusing to cooperate during interrogation by anti-terrorism officers.

"In the three weeks leading up to the arrests, physical and telephone surveillance of the members of the group showed they were all very active, mobile and extremely prudent about their movements," the source added.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said there were several hundred radical Islamists in France capable of acts of terrorism, and prisons were breeding radicalism.

President Francois Hollande promised on Sunday to step up security around synagogues and said the government would soon present legislation to parliament that would allow police to arrest people believed to have been involved in terrorism-related activity outside France.

Additional reporting by Reuters